Transcript of the UN in Somalia’s virtual press conference in Mogadishu - 26 October 2022

26 Oct 2022

Transcript of the UN in Somalia’s virtual press conference in Mogadishu - 26 October 2022


  • James Swan, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM)
  • Anita Kiki Gbeho, UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia (UNSOM)
  • Lisa Filipetto, UN Assistant Secretary-General, and Head of UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS)
  • El-Khidir Daloum, Representative and Country Director of the UN World Food Programme WFP) and acting Humanitarian Coordinator

JAMES SWAN: Good morning and welcome.

My name is James Swan. I'm the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia. I'm joined here today by Anita Kiki Gbeho, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative (DSRSG) for Somalia, responsible for political, rule of law and security issues; Assistant-Secretary-General Lisa Filipetto, who heads the UN Support Office for Somalia, and also by El-Khidir Daloum, who is the Acting Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator.

We're hosting this event as we do annually to mark, on this occasion, the 77th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1945. And I want to underscore that, as we see around the world and here in Somalia as well, the values and the significance of the United Nations have never been more important.

First, I want to briefly review that the United Nations has many facets, and often the terminology ‘United Nations’ is used rather loosely without understanding what we're actually discussing.

So first, of course, the United Nations represents a set of principles enshrined in the UN Charter, but also in many other documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Somalia joined the United Nations at the time of its independence in 1960, subscribed to the Charter, and it is a valued Member State within the United Nations.

Secondly, the United Nations is indeed just that: an organisation and a forum of its Member States. At the moment, more than 190 countries around the world belong to the United Nations. Somalia is one of them. As an organisation of Member States, the United Nations also represents the decisions taken by those Member States, whether through the General Assembly, or through the United Nations Security Council.

And, indeed, three of the organisations operating here in Somalia are the product of UN Security Council decisions related to the preservation of international peace and security. And those three organisations are: the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), the United Nations Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS), which you'll hear about in a moment in more detail from Lisa Filipetto, and thirdly, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). So all three of these entities are, in fact, creations of and instruments of the United Nations Security Council on behalf of the Member States of the United Nations.

And then finally the United Nations is, of course, an array of implementing organisations that support and advocate and deliver on the objectives of the United Nations, as decided by its Member States. Here, in Somalia, we have more than 20 such entities, including large UN agencies that are well known here: World Food Programme (WFP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and many, many more. These organisations seek to respond to the needs and objectives of the Somali people.

Let me now just say a word about the core areas of focus of the United Nations here in Somalia. And first, I want to underscore that our strategy is codified in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework for Somalia.

This is a publicly available document. It contains considerable detail, which I will not review here. But the main point I want to emphasise is that this document is fully aligned with and, indeed, signed by the Somali government. This document matches up to the National Development Plan of the Somali government. So everything that the United Nations is doing here in Somalia is intended to support and advance objectives that have already been identified by Somalia’s leaders.

As I noted, the cooperation framework is a complicated document with a lot of detail. But I want to just summarise a few key strategic highlights that apply across the United Nations family here in Somalia.

We've identified three interlocking goals that must advance in tandem if they are going to be sustainable and durable. I will just review them briefly. And again, they fully align with the Government's own National Development Plan.

The first area is governance and state-building. This entails not only the work of the United Nations in supporting Somali-led political and dialogue processes, but it also involves our support for Somali state-building, such as development of local governance structures, such as support for key ministries, such as human rights, such as support for service delivery across a number of agencies within the Somali government. So, state-building, also related to future development of the Constitution and elections and the like.

The second, broad category of effort is security. And on this the lead really is with the United Nations Support Office for Somalia which provides assistance to ATMIS, and also based on trust fund contributions to the Somali Security Forces. But security obviously is more than just support for security forces. We include in this category work on stabilisation for areas recovered from Al-Shabaab. We include work in support of government efforts on preventing and countering violent extremism, support for the justice and corrections sectors. So security is also a second key line of effort for us in support of the government.

Third is addressing the needs of the people, both in terms of humanitarian requirements, but transitioning also to the development needs of the people. This is sometimes known, in certain circles, as the nexus of humanitarian, peacebuilding and development efforts. But it reflects both the strong commitment to respond to immediate life-saving needs of Somalis, but also to work on developing their future capabilities and the ability of the country to generate wealth to address its requirements under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HPIC) Initiative to see improvements in health education and other social sectors.

And then finally, just to note that in all three of these areas of effort – so governance and state-building, security, and the humanitarian-development continuum – we are guided by central principles around the inclusion of women, of youth, of minorities, of people with disabilities. We are also guided by an unrelenting focus on the need to respect international human rights obligations. And finally, to be attentive to the evident impact of climate change on Somalia, with affects not only on security but also on humanitarian needs, and, of course, on future development opportunities for the country. My colleagues will speak more to these broad categories of effort in a moment.

Lastly, on a personal note, some of you will have noted that I will soon be concluding my assignment here in Somalia after more than three years. I have been honoured to meet with so many impressive Somalis across all walks of life during my tenure – nNot just government officials, political leaders, civil society leaders, youth, women, the business community, security actors, and many, many others.

Of course, any time you spend more than three years working on a project, living in this sort of environment, it's somewhat emotional departing. I want to stress though that I leave with a strong sense of hope for Somalia. I think with the conclusion of the protracted and contentious electoral process, under almost any circumstances Somalia would have had an opportunity to turn its attention to other national priorities, and I believe the new government has genuinely seized that opportunity.

We are encouraged by increased efforts and communication between the central government and Federal Member States. And, indeed, we look forward to the National Consultative Council meeting that will be beginning later today and hope that that initiative can continue on a regular basis to address the national priorities collectively between the central authorities and those of the Federal Member States.

Secondly, we're also encouraged to see increased and focused attention on key policy and programme priorities across the development agenda and, particularly, the early effort to ensure that the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HPIC) Initiative process advances without any break due to the governmental transition.

With regards to the security sector, of course we have also noted strong support expressed by so many quarters in Somalia for the recent initiatives against Al-Shabaab. And we are hopeful that they will have impact. It appears that they are putting pressure on Al-Shabaab and are enjoying substantial support from many quarters within the country. We are pleased to be in a position to have supported the Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation, and also the Hirshabelle administration in recent community engagements with a view to assistance in stabilising these areas after their recovery from Al-Shabaab.

Finally, I want to note that, beyond these specific examples, part of the reason for my hopefulness as I look to the future of Somalia despite all of the challenge that it faces is  – as someone who has worked in this country off and on for almost 30 years – to see the great progress of the quality of leaders and key officials, both at the central government and Federal Member State levels, growing capacity, growing effectiveness, growing skills, growing self-confidence. And I really am myself increasingly confident that this leadership team, young Somalis, already-experienced Somalis, will continue to make progress in this country for its people. And the United Nations remains committed to supporting those efforts.

Thank you very much.

And now I'd like to pass the microphone to Deputy SRSG Anita Kiki Gbeho, who, by the way, will also be serving as Officer in Charge after my departure. She's well-known to many, and we look forward to hearing her remarks now. Thank you.

ANITA KIKI GBEHO: Thank you very much, SRSG. So not to repeat some of what has been said, maybe just to note that, on a day-to-day basis, I work with a team on the political pillar and the work is in support of government when it comes to politics, when it comes to human rights and when it comes to rule of law and security.

Most recently, and I sat by the SRSG with the new government, we've seen them elucidate quite clearly their priorities. And in addition to the drought and security in the last NCC [National Consultative Council), their communiqué was clear about their state-building agenda. As you know, state-building is a priority for us, and we have been working closely to support the government.

Most recently, our work has been around elaborating some joint programmes, programmes that will help them implement their priorities moving forward. For example, most recently, we worked with the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development on two programmes. These have been success stories.

These programmes are first, the Joint Programme on Human Rights. This programme assists the government not only to build capacity – they have a priority around strengthening their protection frameworks – but also helps with inclusivity. The government is keen to see not only at the elite central level but also the local level, assisting civil society and other organisations to understand what their rights are, and in addition to allow them to be able to demand those rights.

A second success story for the collaboration between the UN and the government, in support of their priorities, has been the Women, Peace and Protection Programme. This programme is about supporting the women of Somalia to participate in the political process, to be part of the decision-making process, to have a seat at the table moving forward. The Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development led the government of Somalia to work with us, to develop this programme to elucidate the priorities moving forward. And we are also hopeful that the work that was done on achieving the 30 per cent quota will be moved forward through this programme.

There have been other areas that we've worked on with the government, which include justice. Discussions have begun with various ministries on the new justice programme. The government is keen to see us move forward with the Judicial Services Commission. The government is keen to see us move forward with the Constitution and discussions are underway at the moment to do so.

We have also been working very closely with the Parliament. We've met with both the speakers of the Upper House and the Lower House. They have been quite clear about what they see as priorities moving forward. There are some short-term actions that we've agreed to move forward on, including joint assessments of what is being undertaken currently, including orientation for new parliamentarians and including capacity-building on legal drafting.

I don't want to stay on the floor for too long, but just want to give you a flavour of what it is we are trying to do in support of government priorities using our convening role as the UN to bring us together first as an international community – together with our partners – and to reduce the transaction costs for government when it comes to engaging us and seeking our support for their priorities moving forward.

So, I will leave it at that, SRSG, and pass the floor back to you.

LISA FILIPETTO: It's a great pleasure to be here today for this press conference in honour of UN Day, which recognises the work of the UN around the world and, particularly, here in Somalia. I want to welcome all the journalists and appreciate their interest in what we're doing. UNSOS is very proud to be here as part of the UN family in Somalia, and we are very clearly aligning our work as the UN Support Office in Somalia with the government's priorities, as earlier highlighted by the SRSG, particularly in the area of security.
We are here to support the vision of Somali people and the government for a peaceful and secure Somalia. But what do we do? We actually provide, consistent with our mandate, non-lethal support to the African Union forces and the Somali Security Forces in their fight against terrorism in Somalia, and in their efforts to bring peace to this country.

Our current focus is to support the operations that are ongoing. It's not appropriate to talk about these operations in this forum, but our support is life-saving support and life support. And I really want to salute the bravery of all the Somali Security Forces and those who are with them, as well as the African Union and communities, for their bravery in this effort. We know that the battle is fierce, and it takes a lot of courage.

Aside from this, our ongoing work is to respond to the Mandate 2628, which was given to us earlier this year, to support the reconfiguration of the African Transition Mission in Somalia, to enable it to be more agile and mobile in supporting Somali Security Forces in their fight against Al-Shabaab.

So that involves a number of steps which we are working through, but we know that we will be moving forward smoothly. We are also very focused on supporting the transition to a Somali security sector lead, as set out in the Somali Transition Plan. It is right and proper that Somalia is in charge of its security sector, and we look forward to helping to build the capacity to do that over time and also, in the meantime, to assisting with their operations. We support 13,900 members of the Somali Security Forces in the field and over 19,000 African Union forces in the field. So as the African Union forces are drawn down, the needs, the efforts of the Somali security forces will increase and the responsibilities, and we are here to support them in that effort.

We also have some non-mandated activities that we undertake when needed. Where humanitarians need us we are providing transport for some drought relief. We have in the past assisted with the COVID vaccination distribution around the country. Occasionally with exams…we have sent secondary school exams around the country. Our UN flights support a number of other activities, and we are proud to be able to help.

We could not do our work unless we had a very strong partnership with the Federal Government of Somalia and with Federal Member States, because we operate in different states. Also, the international partners are contributing to this effort, and, of course, the Member States, all the Member States of the United Nations, the friends Somalia who, through their contributions to the funding of the UN, also support our efforts here in Somalia.

So, the partnerships are strong, and we're committed to those, and we really look forward to ongoing assistance. We are a means to an end, and the end is really a secure, stable and developed Somalia. Thank you.

EL-KHIDIR DALOUM: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. Thank you very much for joining us in this press conference to commemorate UN Day.

In addition to the SRSG’s remarks, I would like to speak about the United Nations’ work in Somalia and the collective efforts of the UN Country Team here in support of the Somali people. This year’s UN week comes at a very difficult time for Somalia as the humanitarian situation remains very dire.

On the humanitarian front, more than 7.8 million people in Somalia, nearly half of the country's population, are currently in need of humanitarian assistance in 2022 – the majority being affected by drought.

Somalia continues to host one of the largest numbers of internally displaced people globally. We estimate this to be about 2.9 million, and between January and September alone, conflict and insecurity have forced some 420,000 to flee their homes, while drought has displaced over one million people.

The historic failure of four consecutive rainy seasons, persistent conflict, displacement, and high food prices have left millions of people at risk of starvation. More than 6.7 million people face acute food insecurity, with over 300,000 facing catastrophic food insecurity conditions.

We are unfortunately now bracing ourselves for a fifth failed rainy season and the time to act is now. Famine is projected in southern Somalia before the end of this year if humanitarian assistance is not urgently scaled up and sustained.

In support of the efforts by the government, humanitarian organisations have been racing against the clock to deliver aid and protection to the most vulnerable people in areas of highest need. As of September, partners have reached 6.5 million people with some form of assistance, but critical gaps remain, including in core lifesaving sectors. Lifesaving projects have been forced to close due to a lack of funding.

In October, this has necessitated the revision of the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), which runs until the end of the year, with an increase of a little over $800 million, from $1.46 billion required at the beginning of the year to meet the needs of 5.5 million people, to the current $2.26 billion, targeting the needs of 7.2 million people; over 80 per cent of that drought-related.

With the revised targets, the HRP is only 46.7 per cent funded, as of 23 October. An urgent infusion of funds is needed to respond to the most critical needs and mitigate the impending loss of life across Somalia in the months ahead.

Apart from responding to the dire humanitarian situation, the United Nations is also committed to Somalia’s path to recovery and sustainable development. Somalia has advanced significantly in the debt relief process under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HPIC) Initiative. Throughout the political transition over the past year, the Federal Government has continued to deliver on the ambitious HIPC reform agenda, which it aims to conclude by the end of 2023. At this stage, we will see significant debt forgiveness by the international community.  

But mirroring the global economic uncertainty, Somalia is facing economic challenges of its own. A combination of drought and the Ukraine-Russia war has contributed to an inflation rate of nine per cent. The IMF’s revised projected growth figures for the Somali economy stand at 2.7 per cent – lower than the estimated population growth of 2.9 per cent. This continues the trend of minimum real per capita growth rate of 0.1 per cent between 2014 and 2021.

Despite this, progress continues across our development priorities. Our collective commitment to delivering on the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals are reflected in Somalia’s National Development Plan – which acts as the country’s Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper –and in the UN’s Cooperation Framework for Somalia (2021-2025). Somalia’s Voluntary National Review – presented to UN Member States in July – illustrated the value of taking a holistic, integrated approach and grounding decisions in data.

The completion of the Somalia National Youth Policy earlier this year provides a strong roadmap for all stakeholders, including the government at the federal and the state level. It’s a technically strong policy that, once endorsed by Cabinet, will highlight priority areas of intervention in working with, and for, young people.  Alongside the decision by the UN General Assembly in September to establish a UN Youth Office, Somalia’s policy will help advance engagement and advocacy for youth development across the UN’s humanitarian, development, and peace-building work.

Somalia’s ambitious efforts to tackle the effect of climate change are impressive. Somalia suffers disproportionately from the climate-related crisis despite playing a minimal role in the causes. Somalia’s own targets include 30 per cent emissions reduction by 2030. The Federal Government’s recent establishment of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and the validation of the 2022-2026 Environmental Strategic Action Plan, reflect the importance Somalia places on climate action. The United Nations, in turn, will continue to support the green growth, development of climate-aware policies, expansion and development of long-term climate adaptation initiatives.  

Another development priority is durable solutions for displacement-affected communities. Efforts to implement the National Durable Solutions Strategy have brought stakeholders together and created unity of effort across the Federal Government and Federal Member States.

Development partners are working closely with humanitarian partners to improve access to sustainable basic services, address housing and property issues and scale up economic and financial inclusion. Our resolve to invest in long-term durable solutions are underscored in the Secretary General’s Action Agenda on Internal Displacement, in which Somalia is selected as a Member State for testing approaches to resolving internal displacement. The United Nations will continue to strengthen the programming response on the humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding nexus.

As we mark 77 years since the day the UN was established, this is an opportunity for all to reflect on the progress but also to re-commit to delivering lifesaving assistance and alleviating the suffering of the most vulnerable Somalis, particularly women and children.

I would like really to conclude, and on behalf of Adam Abdelmhoula, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, thank James Swan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, for his service over the last three years, and for his leadership of the UN in Somalia. We wish him all the best in his future challenges and opportunities.

Thank you!



(edited for clarity)


CARA ANNA (ASSOCIATED PRESS): Do you believe that Somalia's federal government will support a formal declaration of famine? And when will that declaration be made? Thanks.

JAMES SWAN: Thanks very much, Cara. I may ask El-Khidir to come in in a moment, but first let me say that UN entities continue to review, on a regular basis, the latest data in regard to the impact of the drought situation on Somalis. I think it's important to note also that there has, as El-Kadir already mentioned in his briefing, been a substantial increase in delivery of assistance to Somalis in need – with the latest figure, I believe, 6.5 million, which has increased quite dramatically even since June, July of this year.

And this is thanks to very generous contributions from a number of donor countries who have contributed to the humanitarian response plan. So, the response is underway. Many Somalis are receiving assistance and UN agencies, both international and Somali-based humanitarian organisations, are continuing to step up their efforts to ensure that all Somalis in need can be reached.

There is a process by which the data are evaluated against certain criteria for deciding whether famine conditions have been met. As many of you will be aware, in early September, it was communicated that, although famine conditions did not exist, there was a risk of those conditions emerging in certain geographic areas within the country.

So those data will continue to be evaluated on a frequent basis. I believe that there will be an updated assessment in, approximately, the next three weeks. Obviously, those results will be communicated when they emerge. Our humanitarian organisations are in regular contact with senior Somali officials. These are issues that I've discussed personally with the Prime Minister, and there are ongoing conversations. Certainly, the results of the data will be thoroughly consulted with Somali officials before any conclusions are announced. We would expect this to happen perhaps in the coming three weeks. Just to be clear, we would expect the announcement of the results to come out within the next three weeks. There is no determination at this point that those results would necessarily result in the conclusion that famine conditions exist. That will be assessed as part of this effort. Thank you.

CARA ANNA (ASSOCIATED PRESS): Thanks for that response. I'll follow up by asking: obviously, there's been a challenge in reaching areas under Al-Shabaab control. What is the current status of any communication with Al-Shabaab, either from UNSOM or the federal government and what progress, if any, has been made? Thanks.

JAMES SWAN: The effort is to, of course, reach people wherever they may be, and if they are in need. Obviously, some of the specific population data can be difficult to establish as there hasn't been a population census in Somalia for some time and obviously many areas of the country are inaccessible, either because of the security conditions or for other reasons. I believe our rough estimate at this point is that there are approximately 900,000 people in need within zones that are under some degree of influence or control by Al-Shabaab.

So, out of a total of an estimated 7.8 million people in need, those in Al-Shabab areas represent a relatively small number out of that total of 7.8 million. Humanitarian actors are seeking to use a variety of tools to ensure that those throughout the country are reached. This has included scaling up the response, particularly in those localities where risk of famine had been highlighted in early September.

This includes pushing out from existing areas where humanitarian assistance already can be delivered in order to move it closer to populations that may otherwise be inaccessible, with the view that they may be able to reach that and secure assistance. There are ongoing discussions with Somali local organisations that may be in a better position to access those locations and also with private sector entities that may be able to access those locations. Those are the principal efforts that are underway at this point.

But let me say, we obviously appeal to Al-Shabaab to permit free access of humanitarian assistance to those people who are in need. Humanitarian aid is available. We are eager for it to get to those people who are in need. It is obviously regrettable that access continues to be difficult because of Al-Shabab control of those areas, and we would urge that that be adjusted so that those people can benefit from support.

SIMON VALMARY (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE): Just going back on the drought situation, the UN's role the past year has been really to ring the alarm on the situation. Seems like the latest call by Mr. Griffiths in early September has made things move a bit. I wondered if you could elaborate on the evolution of the situation. Have things improved, worsened, been contained? And in other words, are you optimistic, pessimistic on the coming weeks on the drought and famine situation?

JAMES SWAN: Thanks. I'll start, but perhaps El-Khidir can add further. I think it's important to keep some of the top-line numbers that have already been shared in mind that the estimate is approximately 7.8 million people in the country are in need of humanitarian assistance. And we believe that approximately 6.5 million are being reached with some level of assistance and that has increased, as an amount, very significantly since the beginning of the summer.

I think it's also important to note that there have been very substantial additional contributions of donor assistance, particularly since the beginning of August, with something in the order of $800 million in new commitments coming in since the beginning of August. So, both in terms of the availability of resources and in terms of the scale-up of response, the news has been quite positive.

At the same time, we are confronting a situation in which – for reasons of the continuing drought and for reasons of an existing, relatively fragile population in many areas of the country – those impacts continue to be severe. And as noted, we're now in the midst of the fourth failed rainy season and anticipating that there will be a fifth, which obviously creates a severe need.

So really, this is a matter of racing against rather negative environmental factors in order to reach the people. There has been important progress on that front, but the risks remain severe. But let me ask El-Khidir if he wishes to add something.

EL-KHIDIR DALOUM: Thank you very much, SRSG. First, we are not waiting for the famine to be declared and I think that is very important. A declaration of famine is not that important for us. What is important: we know the situation is dire and we know that every one of us, the entire humanitarian community, has to act. And to act now.

And, in relation to your question, Simon, about how optimistic or pessimistic we are: we are, as humanitarians, will always remain optimistic and we will always strive to do what it takes to make sure that we are addressing the crisis. We have three stages: we have one stage where Somalia is at risk of famine, then the second stage with Somalia at an increased risk of famine and then we come to the stage where there is projected famine in [inaudible] regions.

There is a very serious scale-up happening, and for the first time, there are some hard-to-reach areas [where] we are increasing and going – also, hard-to-reach populations, minorities, displaced people, and persons with disabilities; we are reaching them. So, we are increasing the response. We remain positive also, from our performance from July to September. If you look at the figures of the projected people at the IPC [Integrated Food Security Phase Classification] for a state of emergency on IPC 5 catastrophic famine. That has changed as a result of the response.

Having said that, after we have revised the Humanitarian Response Plan to $2.2 billion, with an increase of over $800 million, the funding status right now is 46.7 per cent. That means it is just funded less than 50 per cent. Therefore, we need to sustain the response and we need to continue urging all donors to give more support so that we [can] respond. Four sectors are mission-critical for the response: the food sector, nutrition, water and sanitation, and health.